Now Here Is a Real Housing Crisis; And It Probably Won't Be Getting Better Anytime Soon
Forbidden to buy and sell houses, Cubans rely on informal exchange to look for a better location or something in a better condition. The bureaucratic machinery to manage these bartered trades is complicated, so many pay a "stimulus" to the bureaucrats at the Housing Institute to help the process move more quickly. There are specialists in finding each family what they need, called "exchangers," and it's an occupation at the edges of the law.
The illusion that Raul Castro would allow a real estate market has been vanishing after a year of the mandate. The Cuban leaders know that if they authorize it, citizens will redistribute themselves in a short time. Those who have convertible money will move to the best neighborhoods and those who earn only Cuban pesos will live on the periphery. The fact that there are not rich areas and poor areas is not because, as some believe, we've achieved social justice, but rather the inability to buy and sell houses. What they haven't been able to face is the people's creativity, which disguises the frequent acts of buying and selling as simple exchanges.
~Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger
Update: See related NY Times article "With a Whisper, Cuba’s Housing Market Booms" (January 28, 2008), thanks to Colin for the pointer